Courtesy of Marcel Zyskind
Weighed down by pretentious drama and its classic literature roots, “Trishna” is a magnificent bore of a film, despite its stunning cinematography and intriguing inversion of a tragic love story.
“Trishna” is loosely based on the Thomas Hardy novel “Tess of the d’Ubervilles,” though you wouldn’t guess it from the film’s contemporary India setting. However, India provides the perfect background to the class struggle that is so prominent in the book.
The title character, Trishna (Freida Pinto, “Slumdog Millionaire”), lives in a village in Rajasthan where she works at a nearby resort to help pay the bills for her family. She is a typical country girl of modest means—until she meets Jay (Riz Ahmed, “Centurion”), a guest at the resort and a son of a wealthy property developer. Jay is immediately entranced by the beautiful Trishna and offers her a well-paying job at one of his father’s hotels in Delhi after her father gets injured in a car accident. Intensely loyal to her family, Trishna heads off to the big city, where Jay gallantly courts her and wins her over. However, their seemingly innocent and idyllic relationship soon goes down a tragic downward spiral after Jay’s true nature begins to emerge.
“Trishna” slowly labors through the first two-thirds of the film, dutifully establishing the class hierarchy in India and the blossoming relationship between Trishna and Jay. Unfortunately, this exposition feels a bit heavy-handed and meandering at times, especially because Trishna and Jay’s initial romance consists mostly of long glances and dull small talk. The movie focuses far too much on the social context of their relationship and far too little on the relationship itself. There is no reason that these two people should fall for each other, because, frankly, they have no chemistry.
It’s not so much the actors fault as it is that of the director, Michael Winterbottom. His direction seems to lean towards appearances, as “Trishna” is just a gorgeous film to watch. He takes full advantage of Pinto’s beauty, keeping the camera almost obsessively on her features, as if trying to convince the audience to fall in love with her as Jay is. It doesn’t allow much room for acting.
Which is a shame, because Pinto turns in quite a soulful performance. Her eyes seem to be infinitely sad whenever she gazes into the camera, her character a victim of circumstance and passion. Ahmed, on the other hand, doesn’t come across as entirely convincing in his transformation from genial lover to sadistic abuser.
“Trishna” does have some profound moments when it manages to strike the chord between beauty and tragedy. Sadly, these instances, and Pinto’s underrated acting, don’t make up for the bloated and slow nature of the movie.